Health advocates are urging Ohio state environmental officials to test for lead contamination in a community near the site of a metal factory explosion last month.
A maintenance worker was killed and 12 other people were injured in the February 20 explosion at the I. Schumann & Co. facility near Oakwood Village, outside of Cleveland, officials said at the time. The site is a brass and bronze alloy manufacturer, and lead is often used to improve the metals’ machinability.
Debris from the explosion was found scattered on surrounding buildings and parking lots and the blast blew out windows nearby, a witness said. Multiple fire departments responded to put out a fire that sent black smoke billowing into the air over the factory.
Now local advocates are raising concerns that people living nearby weren’t notified about the potential risk of being exposed to hazardous materials like lead.
“There is no safe level of contamination, and we have to do everything in our power to make sure that we’re protecting our communities and the most vulnerable citizens. So we have to make sure that we’re protecting our babies,” Yvonka M. Hall, executive director of the Northeast Ohio Black Health Coalition and president of the Cleveland Lead Advocates for Safe Housing, a coalition of local non-profit organizations and local leaders, told CNN.
Nearly 64% of residents in Oakwood Village are Black or African American, according to US Census data.
Hall and other advocates are calling on the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency to perform testing in the area and inform residents about the potential risks, noting concerns for children attending day care centers, workers at nearby factories and future residents of new homes being built near the site of the explosion.
The state EPA “has been directly involved since the beginning,” Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine told CNN’s Don Lemon Wednesday morning.
“It is my understanding that there was lead there, but the lead was in a separate place,” DeWine said of the factory explosion during an interview on “CNN This Morning.”
“We’re gonna continue to work there, work the plan of the cleanup and continue to work with people in the community,” the governor said.
DeWine’s comments echoed a statement from the state EPA Tuesday that said, “The fire occurred in the production area of the facility, which is not where the lead and cadmium are stored.”
Data from two nearby stationary air monitors did not show lead levels that would create a public health risk on the day following the fire and “current data shows that the area continues to comply with the national air quality standard for lead,” James Lee, a spokesperson with the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency said in the statement.
Independent testing commissioned earlier this month by Cleveland Lead Advocates for Safe Housing found elevated lead levels in two soil samples of about a dozen collected from sites near the factory, according to test results shared with CNN.
The allowable level of lead in soil at children’s play areas is 400 parts per million or less and 1,200 parts per million for non-play areas, according to the US Environmental Protection Agency.
One of the sites tested by the group showed 1,200 parts per million, according to the results shared with CNN.
The World Health Organization and other health experts have said that there is no safe exposure level for humans and that lead exposure makes children susceptible to brain damage, especially without medical intervention.
The state EPA said it had received the independent soil sampling data and is reviewing the results.
A contractor hired by I. Schumann & Co. is managing the cleanup in the aftermath of the explosion, Lee said, and the Ohio EPA will be reviewing and approving its remediation plan, which includes collecting data to assess the contamination in the area.
The explosion at the metal factory and ensuing health concerns come amid a backdrop of controversy surrounding the potentially toxic chemical exposure and cleanup efforts at the site of a Norfolk Southern train derailment in East Palestine, Ohio, last month. Federal EPA officials said cleanup of that area could take about three months.